WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR – ” Maverick Thinker “

Posted: March 5, 2021 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
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William The Conqueror have paid their damn dues. Like the sportsman cutting chipped teeth in the lower leagues before shooting to the very top, this band have lugged all the amps, placated the in-house sound guy for an easier life, their nails dirty, their hair unkempt. Enough. Naming yourself after one of British history’s most pivotal figures is a bold move, but then William The Conqueror could scarcely be accused of lacking ambition.

A group whose literary flair and in-depth musicality marks them out from the crowd, the three-piece set about constructing their new album last year.

Except it’s never enough, because despite their slinky, swampy, razor-sharp, blues-drenched, guitar thrashed alt. rock songs that form new album, Maverick Thinker and suggest that the door is opening for bigger rooms and broader audiences, it’s those sticky basement bar stages where the songs have always shed a skin and come alive. The record put the three piece behind the glass at Sound City Studios in LA, treading the same carpet as the likes of Nirvana, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, and Fleetwood Mac, and they might well have inhaled the spirit of them all.

William The Conqueror’s protagonist is Ruarri Joseph who knows his way around a melody and a verse. Joseph’s wryness suggests life just ain’t plain sailin’ and he fizzes that sigh and lament into something that breathes heavy with heart and with soul.

Pieced together as the world seemed to collapse, ‘Maverick Thinker’ is shot through with a don’t-look-back attitude, imbuing each song with a potent form of energy.

William The Conqueror began when Ruarri Joseph, a singer/songwriter in his own right, decided to retire his solo career after catching a glimpse of his own tour poster and realising the picture before him didn’t really represent reality. ‘It just seemed totally alien to me,’ he admits. ‘It didn’t seem like anything I’d done necessarily spoke of who I was.’ 

Soon after, he began experimenting with bassist, Naomi Holmes, and drummer, Harry Harding, examining themes from his childhood through the lens of a teenager named William. Starting out with secret gigs, Joseph emphasises the importance of playing those small venues and going back to their roots. ‘That was the cool thing about scrapping being a solo artist and starting completely from scratch, and building from the bottom all the way up. You’ve got no one looking over your shoulder. It takes away the insecurities I suppose.’

After their debut album Proud Disturber of the Peace, the band worked with esteemed producer, Ethan Johns, for their follow up, Bleeding on The Soundtrack, and recently signed to Chrysalis Records. Initially planning to make their latest release, Maverick Thinker, in a home studio, they were later persuaded to make a trip to Sound City Studios. The intention being to immerse themselves in the vibrant musical culture and artistic scene of Los Angeles, but, instead, found themselves in a ghost town as the pandemic hit. 

Despite the strange circumstances, William the Conqueror continued with their work. The album was self-produced by the band along with recording engineer, Joseph Lorge, who also, after the band were forced to fly home early, played the guitar solo for the title track. ‘Having an engineer you can trust, you can focus everything about yourself on the performance. He knew the studio inside out.’ Though the location may have changed, they took their customary recording approach of tracking live, capturing the spirit and integrity of their shows without losing themselves in the production.

For a three-piece, William the Conqueror live up to their name and fill an incredible amount of space – commanding your attention with the depth and vitality of a much larger outfit. ‘It was an economical thing to begin with,’ says Joseph. ‘I have this thing about working in threes. I like the format.’ So far, Joseph hasn’t been tempted into arranging beyond their current numbers, with the recorded output staying mainly faithful to their on-stage sound. ‘There’s something quite nice about some kind of creative restriction,’ he says – ‘it makes you think outside the box.’

‘Working in threes is always nice – a little treble approach with a three-piece band. I had the idea of a trilogy in my head – a child, father, mother kind of thing. Then I read something by Herman Hesse about the three stages of development in life being innocence, disillusionment, and faith – the idea, that we all go through that kind of journey.’

When it comes to song writing, Joseph takes a more relaxed approach which is evident in his colloquial vocal tone and conversational manner. ‘My favourite kind of writing is the stuff where you’re not really aware of what it is that’s going down on the paper at the time.’ The band’s recent single, Move On, was written in this way. ‘It came from the idea of being overwhelmed – drowning in ideas and not knowing where to begin.’ Together, with a roving bassline and restless high hats, the imagery depicts twists in the roads and towns by the coast. It was a retrospective realisation that the song was about a hitchhiking trip his mother had embarked on in her youth.

 Maverick Thinker’s second single, Jesus Died a Young Man, is an ode to some of Joseph’s early religious experiences and features staggered guitars and a mantra-like chorus that wouldn’t feel out of place at a faith healer show. Joseph’s vocals are dry and almost conversational – culminating in an exasperated wail, amidst the pounding rhythm section. ‘I was quite lost and looking for something to show me the way out of curiosity. Had I encountered a really good teacher, I probably would have fallen for it because of that charlatanism – drunk on the spirit, hands in the air kind of stuff,’ he says. ‘There’s something particularly sinister about televised evangelists – it’s a sort of next-level possession.’ Accompanied by a video featuring a channel flickering between swaggering televangelists, news channels and predatory nature clips, there’s a definite cynicism and an unsettling air.

As well as writing, recording and releasing music, Joseph has also authored an accompanying novel as well as producing a podcast adaptation. ‘The music and the book – they fit together. If you read the book and listen to the record, you can hear things crossing over.’ 

Joseph has been keeping himself busy during lockdown. When not writing songs, you can witness his other creative efforts through the band’s latest music videos including Wake Up – made entirely of 1920s horror movie footage. ‘That’s what you have to do when you’ve not got a budget for a music video. 

New album ‘Maverick Thinker’ out now

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